Raita is a side dish in Indian cuisine that is made by blending thick yogurt with various fruits, vegetables, and spices. Some people consider it to be a form of salad, while others use it more like a condiment. There are an assortment of ingredients which can be used in raita, creating dishes that range from almost sweet to intensely spicy. It is very common in India and around the world.
This dish is very similar to tsatsiki, a Greek dish that also takes advantage of the tangy nature of yogurt. In both cases, the yogurt used is typically plain, whole fat, and very thick. Strained yogurt works especially well, because it is extremely thick and it has a texture almost like that of soft cheese curds; in some parts of India, raita is known as a curd preparation in a reference to the desired texture.
Outside of India, cucumber raita is probably the most common version of this dish, although in India, this form can be difficult to find, because the combination of yogurt and cucumber is frowned upon in Ayurvedic tradition. Carrot and onion raita are both common in India, and it is also possible to find it made with bananas, tomatoes, kiwis, and an assortment of other foods. It may also be seasoned with things like cumin, coriander, black mustard seeds, mint, dill, and cayenne, among other ingredients.
Traditional raita is a bit of contradiction. The dish is both cooling and spicy, with the yogurt soothing the mouth while eating spicy food, while the chilies that are frequently used keep the taste buds on their toes. The dish can be used as a dip for breads as well as being served alongside or on curries. Some people also enjoy eating it straight.
People who tend to have trouble with spicy food may want to ask for raita on the side of the plate if they eat at an Indian restaurant. They can also specify that they want it to be less spicy. When very spicy food is eaten, taking a bite of the raita may help; the acidity of the yogurt will help to cool the mouth down, making it feel more comfortable.
This dish is very easy to make at home. Finely chopped fruits or vegetables of choice can be tossed with some yogurt, and spices added to taste. Traditionally, raita is salted, and if a vegetable with high water content like cucumber is used, salting it first will pull some of the water out so that the dish will not turn runny.